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History of the Swiss Watch Industry

From Jacques David to Nicolas Hayek- Third edition

Pierre-Yves Donzé

This book tackles the history of the Swiss watch industry in a global perspective: it gives particular attention to rival nations such as the United Kingdom, the USA and Japan. The author demonstrates how Swiss watchmakers succeeded in facing various challenges: the industrialization of production at the end of the 19 th century, the delocalization of production in the interwar years and globalization since the 1960’s. These challenges helped Switzerland to maintain and strengthen its position as a leader on the world market. This study shows how innovation and new technologies, the industrial policy of the Swiss authorities, the industrial district organization and the relations with trade unions explain the worldwide success of the Swiss watch industry.
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Chapter 1: The Swiss Watch Industry during the first part of the 19th century (1800–1870)

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CHAPTER 1

The Swiss Watch Industry during the first part of the 19th century (1800–1870)

According to tradition, the origin of Swiss watchmaking goes back to its emergence and development in the city of Geneva in the second part of the 16th century.1 At that time, London, Paris, and the southern part of Germany were the main places in Europe where watches were manufactured. The success of watchmaking in Geneva, and then in all the Jura Mountains, enabled Switzerland to assert itself as the main challenger of Great Britain in the 18th century.

The development of watchmaking in Geneva has a twofold origin. First, the goldsmith’s and silversmith’s craft must be taken into account, as it was an artisanal activity with an international renown since the Middle Ages. Second, the first wave of protestant immigrants, especially from France (Huguenot refugees) during the 16th century, played a key role, as their arrival gave Geneva new technical know-how, as well as capital and commercial networks which favored the growth of watchmaking in Geneva. Under the influence of Jean Calvin, the passing of luxury laws (lois somptuaires) restricting the wearing of jewels (1560), and then the banning of goldsmiths, silversmiths and watchmakers from making religious items such as crosses and chalices (1566) led these craftsmen to redirect their work towards the decoration of watches. The coming together of goldsmiths and watchmakers is at the root of the development of a watch industry in Geneva. Due to...

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